When congressional elections are held all around the country, more than perhaps ever before, they are expected to be a referendum about the president. Trump is, as the term goes, polarizing, and intentionally so, but actually has less power than we think. The uniqueness of our governmental structure is the “power to the people” checks and balances. Congress is the branch that represents the people, and their power over the executive–the President. The President can call a special session of Congress, but cannot dismiss it; the President can veto congressional action but Congress can override it; the President can appoint judges but Congress approves them, or not; Congress can impeach the President, but he can’t get rid of any legislators. The perceived power and influence of the President is symbolic of a “gimme government”, as the office has become promiser in chief.
What do I mean by that? When was the last time you or anyone you know asked themselves or anyone else, “which candidate embraces the best understanding of the purpose of government at their level?” Uncle Curmudgeon, now what are you raving about? What is the purpose of civic government–distinguished from family and church governments–at least in this country? Hmm, where would I find that information? In the preamble of the constitution, it says “to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” How is liberty secured? By protecting what is crucial to liberty. And that is? Our defense, our currency and our trade. It isn’t mere chance that the only three Federal crimes in the infancy of this country were treason, counterfeiting and piracy, and they were written into the constitution.
Now all of that has been forgotten, certainly not taught since government started controlling public education. There are over 300,000 Federal crimes today, most of them regulating the “gimmes” and imagined rights of a self-absorbed populace. When was the last time you saw Campaign literature say anything about what the candidate believes in or how they presume to secure liberty? I haven’t done a systematic study, but I would wager that most campaigns criticize the opponents and try to make the election a referendum on the president, his rhetoric and promises. Perhaps we need to review what the job of Congress is and what the job of the President is not. Congress is the Senate and the House of Representatives, and both share certain powers: to declare war, raise an army and navy, borrow and coin money, taxation, regulate interstate commerce, create federal courts, establish rules for naturalization of immigrants and generally make laws.
The system of “checks and balances” applies to every branch of government, even between houses of Congress. The House alone has the power to originate revenue bills and impeach the President, Vice-President, and other National Civil officials. The Senate has the power to approve or deny bills, and to try the impeachments. The President has the power to appoint judges, ambassadors and cabinet posts, make treaties, and veto legislation. Congress has the power of approval over Presidential appointments and treaties. At this time there’s no need for me to go into checks and balances that involve the third component of Federal government, the Supreme Court, because this post is addressed to voters. You don’t vote for Supreme Court judges, but you do vote for senators, who approve them, or not.
Now to the main point. If this Congressional election is a referendum on President Trump, why? The most divisive and volatile issues of our day include: immigration; what kind of speech is deserving of legal protections and what speech should be censured; the nature of gender and legislating bathroom use; whether to believe women or men in “he said/she said” conflicts; sexual orientation protections; what level of violence and incivility should be tolerated in protesting; a woman’s right to abort her
baby fetus; who is the most abusive to other races; whether white melanin-challenged males are too privileged; whether Trump or his media antagonists are bigger A-holes. Need I go on? Not only is none of this crap related to the duties of a President, but the majority of it is also irrelevant to Congressional elections. In 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as 35th President of the United States. In his inaugural address, he uttered possibly the most well known sentence of any presidential inauguration, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Huh, say what? I wonder if any political candidate who actually wants to win would utter such words today.
The very nature of the controversies most in the news reflects a view of government as the purveyor of favors and arbiter of power, through redistribution of income, speech and other rights, NOT the protector of our liberty. In fact, just the opposite. The loudest shouters and whiners want considerably less liberty for anyone who disagrees with them. If they get what they want, our immigration problem–too many people knocking at the door–will be solved. When we all have less liberty, fewer people will want to get in. Until then we are the big kahuna of the world, but if a real crisis, one that truly threatens our liberty, comes along, and the pandering promises of our candidates fail to inspire, will we have someone to say, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” That won’t get you elected, but it was enough to stiffen the spine of the British people in their “darkest hour.” Ours will come too, and if we fail, it will be because “power to the people” became favors to the people, and the commander in chief became the promiser in chief, all because that’s what the people wanted.